Indigo De Souza is in the grip of a glamorous crustacean named Shrimp Shrimp. Her mouth is wide open and her eyes are wide as she watches the lithe dancer in front of her, sporting a sequined shrimp head and flowing tendrils, begin stripping to Billie Eilish’s ballad “Ocean Eyes.” As crowds gathered at Coney Island’s Gills! Gills! Gills! The Fishtacular burlesque show erupts into applause, De Souza turns to me and whispers, “That almost made me cry.”
During intermission, we do a straight line outside to report on the performers of the night, which also included host Tallulah Talons, who modeled a fabulous slime green bodysuit with pristine foam gills, a drunken hula hooper in a tiny thong in a grass skirt, and a naughty clown who hit my head. By comparison, De Souza, 24, is dressed relatively modestly in an oversized Biggie T-shirt, bright green shorts and white platform boots, her eyes rimmed with small gems. When she puts her mask back on, I notice that her knuckle tattoos spell “house.”
While De Souza isn’t necessarily a regular patron of underwater-themed burlesque shows, she’s well versed in environments that allow people to revel in their free selves. Early 2020, around the same time she recorded her next sophomore album Any form you take, De Souza left his adopted hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and moved to a nearby church in the woods. This sacred space is where the singer and her friends dress, move their bodies and hold each other, a ritual that’s captured in her recent magical video for “Hold U.”
Like many songs on Any form you take, “Hold U” envisions a love – romantic, family or community – that can endure even in the darkest times of pain. After a year marked by isolation and loss, De Souza and his friends wanted to capture a celebration of queer joy, and the scenes of an exuberant dance party more than succeeded in inducing second-hand catharsis. But filming the video was also a personal milestone for De Souza, a reminder of who she has become and the values she now holds dear. “When I became friends with people who celebrate joy, I realized that I had been surrounded by a lot of darkness before,” she says. “But it’s OK to dance and laugh. Even if everything is ephemeral, it is still important.
De Souza grew up in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, a small conservative town near the Blue Ridge Mountains with a population of about 2,000. She was primarily raised by her mother, a visual artist whose psychedelic paintings now adorn De Souza’s album covers; in the one for Any form you take, the naked avatars and skulls of the mother-daughter couple fill the aisle of a supermarket overgrown with greenery. De Souza’s father, who was less present in his childhood, is a Brazilian bossa nova guitarist.